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Thursday, December 9, 2010

War Games Are Not Wars

Last week’s Sacramento News and Review contains an article about a war protest that occurred a couple weekends ago at the Sacramento Central Library. But it wasn’t so much a protest against a real war than it was a war game. The article states that the activist groups Veterans for Peace and Grandmothers for Peace protested the video gaming event Nerd Fest’s Call of Duty tournament. According to the article, the protesters felt that Call of Duty was encouraging war and violence. But the game has an M (“Mature”) rating and so is limited to the 17 and older crowd in its sales and at its tournaments such as Nerd Fest’s, as the article indicates. That, at least to an extent, solves the problem of influence on minors. However, according to SN&R, what the protesters were really speaking against was the library, a place of educational and intellectual activity, promoting the game and in so doing promoting war and violence. Therefore they were saying that the tournament had no place in a public library (as stated in the article), an institution of free access to information whether in the form of literature or art.

Now, speaking as a war protester myself, war in reality is one thing; war at the level of play is a totally different one. War at the level of playing is mere fantasy. We need fantasy; we need a sense of high adventure even though most of us wouldn’t want to find ourselves in a dangerous situation such as a war. Fantasizing throughout time has been proven to be healthy. It has prevented artists and writers from going insane and it has helped entire societies ventilate their frustrations in ways that otherwise would be taboo and/or illegal. That is why cultures, including our own, have celebrations such as Mardi Gras and Carnival (as it is called in many Latin American countries). Such events allow people to act out their frustrations and desires through the expressions of bizarre and/or immoral costumes and dances that otherwise would be socially unacceptable. Playing a mere video game is no different. In many cases it’s much safer and therefore prevents violent and dangerous acts. There have been reports of Marti Gras and other carnivalesque events having problems with participants getting wild and wasted to the extent of causing fatal accidents.

Now being against war myself, I do not admire Call of Duty. My “Call of Duty” are games such as Star Wars: Empire at War. Playing these games hasn’t even changed my views on war and violence, and so has not caused me to commit these acts.

To say our public library should not sponsor this or that cultural event, including pop cultural events like Nerd Fest’s Call of Duty tournament, is almost calling for censorship of a form of art and story telling. Video games are a form of art and story telling through digital media. Therefore video games like literature, fine art, film and music are means of expression. They are means of expression both by their creators as well as their players. If a public institution such as Sacramento Central Library, an institution of learning and culture, is required to ban video game tournaments due to violent subject matter it would be banning an artistic form of expression. If a person doesn’t like such events because he or she doesn’t believe what they stand for, that person has no obligation to attend them. That’s why many of my fellow geeks didn’t see me at Nerd Fest. For me, unlike Empire at War which takes place in space and on alien worlds, Call is too close to reality in its depiction of war.

I hate and am against war just as much as those protesters at Sacramento Central Library two weekends ago. But I don’t give up Star Wars video gaming because of it, let alone Star Wars fandom in general. In fact, one of the reasons Star Wars is one of my favorite space epics is because the heroes are of a liberal class: the Rebel Alliance, a group that goes against institutionalized oppression which comes from the Empire. Of course, this violent conflict serves only as a metaphor for my own political and social justice beliefs. It’s mere fantasy.

References

Hansel, Sara. “Kill Screen”. Sacramento News & Review, Vol. 22, Issue 33. December 2, 2010.

http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/content?oid=1883164

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